Trains and trams provide a critical network for the transport of passengers and freight across our State. Wherever these tracks meet a road or footpath—a unique set of safety hazards is present.
While they do not occur often, any incident at a railway crossing can cause service disruptions, motorist delays, property damage and, in the most serious cases, injury and death. The impacts on communities and the economy, as well as the loss of confidence in the rail transport system, can be significant and far-reaching.
The combination of speed, passengers and freight travelling on intersecting rail and road systems has the potential for high impact or catastrophic incidents. However, even a collision with a low speed train or tram can result in serious injury or death, particularly for pedestrians.
In South Australia, four people were killed and six people were seriously injured at railway crossings between 2011 and 2015. Each incident is a reminder of the risks present at crossings and the need for drivers, riders and pedestrians to obey the road rules and approach crossings with care. Near-hits also are a major concern. Rail operators have reported 660 near-misses at railway crossings during the same five-year period.
All incidents—whether fatal collisions or nearhits—have an immeasurable effect on train drivers, railway and emergency service employees and their families in particular.
As humans, we are all capable of making mistakes—and we do—every day. Recognising this helps us create a more forgiving road and rail network to minimize harm and ensure that those mistakes do not result in death or serious injury.
While State and Commonwealth governments have made significant safety improvements to railway crossings over the past decade, more work needs to be done.
Engineering and infrastructure improvements, installation of warning signals and automatic pedestrian gates, and education and enforcement continue to be necessary to improve safety at existing crossings.
However, in line with other Australian jurisdictions, we also need to consider reducing the number of railway crossings, by closing existing crossings and discouraging new crossings. This strategy has the greatest potential to achieve our objective of zero harm.